Why Physical Therapy is Important After Surgery

April 9, 2021 0

Surgery is not usually something that people look forward to. No one wakes up thinking, “you know what I really feel like doing today? I feel like having an operation!” Surgery is typically very expensive, sometimes dangerous or complicated, and usually involves substantial downtime and recovery. Luckily, physical therapy (PT) can be extremely beneficial after surgery to help you regain joint mobility, strength, and flexibility. Therapists are trained to teach you exercises and techniques to speed up your recovery time and make sure that everything heals properly. 


You may be prescribed physical therapy after surgery because your doctor is sure that it will help you recover faster. But what exactly is it? Post-surgery visits will involve meeting with a PT or DPT who will help you regain mobility, movement, and flexibility. They will do this by helping you use devices and equipment (both assistive and adaptive), as well as bodyweight exercises that can be done with no equipment (so you can practice at home) to speed up your recovery time.

The goals of physical therapy after surgery are two-fold. Firstly, you are aiming to regain joint mobility and increase your active and passive ranges of motion. This will involve targeting the joint itself and all of its inner workings (such as connective tissue). Secondly, you aim to strengthen all of the surrounding muscle groups so that the targeted joint is supported. The last thing you want to do is strain a joint that has recently been injured, replaced, or operated on. By strengthening the muscle groups around the joint, you can relieve some of the pressure and impact of mobility from the joint itself. Read on to learn about some common post-op physical therapy practices, and what kind of exercises would likely be involved.


Knee replacements are relatively common in our older population. Thankfully, they have a very high success and recovery rate (roughly 90%). Knee surgeries are sometimes necessary for athletes in the younger demographic as well. Physical therapy after knee replacements or surgery is almost always part of the recovery prescription, but what does it entail? Typically, PT will begin within a day (or even on the same day) of your operation.

When recovering from a total knee replacement, you are basically starting from square one, learning how to walk and utilize basic mobility functions with a brand-new body part. Therefore, day one of physical therapy after knee surgery will most likely involve simply standing and putting weight on your new knee and attempting to take some steps (usually with a walker and the help of a doctor).

From there, your PT will focus on the surrounding and supporting muscles of the knee joint. You will work on strengthening your calves and thigh muscles, both the quads and the hamstrings. This can be done by intentionally flexing and releasing the muscles or by trying to walk up a few stairs at a time. Eventually, you will be able to walk, and your physical therapist will shift the focus to strengthening. You will probably be putting some time in on an exercise bike.


The shoulder is a fairly complex joint, with many moving pieces. Therefore, it is important to allow ample healing time and rest. That said, physical therapy after rotator cuff surgery is highly beneficial for regaining joint mobility. The exercises are simple and can be done at home (although we advise consulting with a therapist before trying anything on your own).

You can practice shoulder elevations by keeping your arms straight and raising them slowly up toward your head. Hold them as high as possible and then slowly lower them. You can also work on strengthening your rotator cuff by clasping your hands behind your back. Be sure that your wrists stay together in this position, or else you can strain them. Slowly begin to lift your clasped hands.

Another great physical therapy exercise after rotator cuff surgery is slow-motion swimming. Try to mimic the movement in the front crawl stroke, but with straight arms. If approved by your therapist, you can try this while standing in water for a bit of extra resistance.


Unfortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome is very common. Many of us spend countless hours typing on a computer. Others have jobs that involve manual labor that puts extra strain on the wrists. Jewelers and surgeons alike may suffer from this as well. So, what does physical therapy after carpal tunnel surgery look like?

The biggest obstacle with carpal tunnel surgery is typically scar tissue that forms as the wrist heals from the operation. Therapists will utilize manual therapy called soft tissue mobilization. They will use their hands to massage the tissue and break up the adhesions in your wrist to restore your joint mobility.

Your therapist will also focus on helping you recover your range of motion with a series of exercises to help limber the joint back up post-op. Additionally, they will give you exercises (such as squeezing a stress ball) to help strengthen the surrounding muscles so that they can better support the joint as it heals.


You may also need physical therapy after ankle or shoulder surgery. If you are interested in scheduling a consultation and PT sessions with a physical therapist and are in the greater Boston area, LCG Boston offers 1:1 rehab and recovery. Our team of Physical Therapists offers in-home therapies for up to 7 days per week! We also offer Virtual Physical Therapy and Yoga Physical Therapy, so no matter your needs, we can find a flexible treatment plan that will work best for you.

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